I was an awful note taker at the university and in law school. Especially in law school, I would watch the other students scribble furiously in their notebooks, so I would copy their behavior and write copious notes from every class. There was just one problem, when I got home and went back through my notes, they were absolutely meaningless. It was not that I couldn't write legibly, it was just that whatever I wrote down made no sense. I finally got to the point of simply listening more carefully and trying to accurately record the assignments.
This problem with note taking carried over to my genealogical investigations. I go to the libraries and find information on my family and write down meaningful notes (at the time) and when I go back to the notes later, they are gibberish. I have no idea what I wrote about or even what I have done. So, recognizing my dilemma, I started an entirely different way of taking notes. I now use my digital camera to record everything of interest. By clicking away at the books and materials, I can record everything I see of interest and I don't have to rely on indecipherable notes for information. I simply go back to the original materials any time I need to refer to them.
Of course, as I have discussed before, all of those digital images do create another problem; organization and storage. Storage is no longer a real issue, I have huge 1.5 Terabyte hard drives and could easily go to 2 Terabyte drives if necessary. On the other hand, organizing the files and collating the information with the pertinent family records is a huge problem. The book above is a good example. This person was my great aunt. Her daughter-in-law's book about her life is 155 pages long. It is spiral bound and self-published. It is such a limited edition book, that no copy has found its way into a library and it is not listed in Worldcat.org and does not show up on a Google search. Finding a book like this would be an extraordinary opportunity, but had I relied on my note taking ability, practically all of the information in the book about my family would now be lost to me forever. The people who wrote and produced the book are long since dead and I would have no idea how to find another copy of the book. So what happens when I digitize the book? I can then refer back to the information at any time without any particular concern that my notes will not be readable.
But what about copyright? Yes, the book is copyrighted. Yes, someone, somewhere owns that copyright. But I do not intend to reproduce the book at all, for sale or otherwise. Here is the very ambiguous description of the fair use doctrine for copyright from the U.S. Copyright office:
One of the rights accorded to the owner of copyright is the right to reproduce or to authorize others to reproduce the work in copies or phonorecords. This right is subject to certain limitations found in sections 107 through 118 of the copyright law (title 17, U. S. Code). One of the more important limitations is the doctrine of “fair use.” The doctrine of fair use has developed through a substantial number of court decisions over the years and has been codified in section 107 of the copyright law.The key here is how am I going to use the copyrighted material? Exactly, I am not going to use it at all. I am going to use the genealogical information contained in the book. As noted above, copyright does not extend to the factual information conveyed in the work. There is always an upside and a downside to any good system.
Section 107 contains a list of the various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered fair, such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Section 107 also sets out four factors to be considered in determining whether or not a particular use is fair:
The distinction between fair use and infringement may be unclear and not easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission.
- The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
- The nature of the copyrighted work
- The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
- The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work
Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission.
The 1961 Report of the Register of Copyrights on the General Revision of the U.S. Copyright Law cites examples of activities that courts have regarded as fair use: “quotation of excerpts in a review or criticism for purposes of illustration or comment; quotation of short passages in a scholarly or technical work, for illustration or clarification of the author’s observations; use in a parody of some of the content of the work parodied; summary of an address or article, with brief quotations, in a news report; reproduction by a library of a portion of a work to replace part of a damaged copy; reproduction by a teacher or student of a small part of a work to illustrate a lesson; reproduction of a work in legislative or judicial proceedings or reports; incidental and fortuitous reproduction, in a newsreel or broadcast, of a work located in the scene of an event being reported.”
Copyright protects the particular way an author has expressed himself. It does not extend to any ideas, systems, or factual information conveyed in the work.
The safest course is always to get permission from the copyright owner before using copyrighted material. The Copyright Office cannot give this permission.
When it is impracticable to obtain permission, use of copyrighted material should be avoided unless the doctrine of fair use would clearly apply to the situation. The Copyright Office can neither determine if a certain use may be considered fair nor advise on possible copyright violations. If there is any doubt, it is advisable to consult an attorney.